December 2, 2005
Nell Anderson, Vanessa Christman, Jody Cohen, Anne Dalke, Christina Gubitosa, Molly McTague, and Rona Pietrzak
"Re-envisioning Class in and Beyond the Bi-Co"
Jody Cohen began by informing the group that this conversation was a follow-up to three prior discussions related to or touching on class— one last spring, one earlier this fall, and the one on 11/18 about Inclusion/Exclusion at Bryn Mawr.
Visions of Class. Jody and Anne Dalke then directed the group’s attention to a visual presentation. As the first image appeared on the screen, Anne explained that she and Jody wanted to begin with a quote from Joseph Taylor’s will (previously quoted in the Diversity Conversation on Inclusion/Exclusion)—that his money be used to erect buildings “for the comfort and advanced education and care of young women, or girls of the higher classes of society.” This quote was followed by an image from the most recent Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin, a photo of students at the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers assembled to perform a skit called “Wealth and Poverty” in 1930.
The group then looked at a variety of images that Jody and Anne had assembled—the instructions were to look in silence, then be prepared to break into discussion groups.
In our discussion groups, we asked, “Where did you see yourself in relation to the pictures? Where did you hear yourself in relation to the language?”
Reactions. Once the large group reassembled, Jody and Anne asked the following: “What was surprising in the group discussion/responses to the pictures? Why are we afraid when class becomes visible?”
The group had the following reactions:
The upper class/poverty contrast photos at the beginning were obvious. Those were extremes, but other pictures, such as the one of people gathered at a picnic table, did not present as extreme a portrait of class.
Recognizing class differences is uncomfortable, because our associations are tied to a history. Stereotypes seem to dominate; for example, that rich=snobby.
At first BMC was for the upper classes. The institution has changed to include others, but what has changed here in order for that to work? (Has the institution changed in a way that truly correlates to changes in the student body?)
Not everyone knows specifics of BMC history in regards to class. Some students didn’t realize that the photo of (white) BMC students eating while a black woman serves them was taken in a dining hall. Someone remarked that Wyndham still feels that way, sometimes.
As for the photos the College rotates on its home page—many people said “that’s not the BMC I know or belong to.” But when asked, “What pictures WOULD you put there?” there were no answers. And the language on the web site—“A community of equals” “Intellectual exploration”—for many people that does not ring true. One person admitted her goal was, necessarily, “just get a degree, for employment and security.”
When we talk about income levels, it seems BMC is not diverse. In reality, there are all kinds of income levels—18K, 40K. While those may seem like incredibly low numbers to many of the student population, they do exist!
A student was asked, “Oh, you go to Bryn Mawr—is it still really rich?” She’s a freshman and still trying to get a feel for it. What would the answer be? She’s feels uncertain. Another way Bryn Mawr is perceived from the outside is “You have your BMW princesses here and your intense vegan lesbians.” Where does that leave people?
If you’ve been to private schools, it may be hard to know what the norm [for class] is.
Time was out, so Jody wrapped the conversation. As she reminded the group, this was the second session explicitly about class. Each time we have one, she said, we break through a little more. She stated that she appreciates people’s willingness to speak and looks forward to continuing this conversation.
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